Quest of The Historical Jesus, Chapter 2: Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768)Irish1975 wrote: ↑Sun May 02, 2021 7:22 am Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus (1st ed., tr. Montgomery, 1910) is available here on Early Christian Writings.
In the interest of promoting close study and discussion of this always relevant book, I will attempt a synopsis of each chapter. Feedback, assistance, and clarification are welcome.
Knowing no German, I often adhere closely, but not entirely, to the exact language of the English text, especially on controversial points (eg, “the Gospel writers were simple Christians without literary gift”). At other places, I use my own words to make the point concise.
1. No one before Reimarus attempted to form a historical conception of the life of Jesus. For Martin Luther, e.g., the acts and miracles of Jesus recounted in Scripture have no order, and unsolvable difficulties ought to be left alone.
2. Reimarus’ “Aims of Jesus and his Disciples” is a watershed in the history of Biblical criticism.
3. For Lessing, a thinker and not a historian, Reimarus’ criticism discredited the received idea of revelation, and necessitated for theology a retreat from written traditions to the inner truth of Christianity.
4. Summary of Reimarus—
i. Jesus’ own preaching must have been different, and was in fact different, from what the apostles preached about him.
ii. His whole message was that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand—and therefore his hearers must repent and believe the good news. This message was intended and understood from within the thought world of Judaism at that time, which yearned only for earthly deliverance from Roman oppression. Jesus would have been viewed as the messiah only according to this traditionally Jewish and political conception, and not in any heavenly or spiritual way.
iii. Therefore Jesus had no intention to abolish Judaism or to replace it with a new religion. Christian baptism does not go back to Jesus at all, and the records of his last supper refer only to the Mosaic passover on the one hand, and to an imminent kingdom (which never arrived) on the other.
iv. Jesus did not prove his messiahship through miracles; the Gospels do not indicate that he performed miracles at all during the last week in Jerusalem.
v. Jesus mistakenly believed that the kingdom would come either at the sending out of his disciples, or at his riding a donkey into Jerusalem, or at least within the time of the present generation. His death cry (Why have you forsaken me?) shows plainly that his hope and belief were crushed in the end. It had not been his purpose to suffer and die, but to be the deliverer of the Jews.
vi. After Jesus’ death the disciples retreated to a second form of the Jewish messianic hope, according to a two-phase conception derived from Daniel and expressed in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho (ch. 14): the messiah was to come a first time in humility and suffering, and a second time triumphantly on the clouds of heaven.
vii. The disciples hid Jesus’ body and invented the story of his resurrection and imminent return, giving his death the significance of a spiritual redemption. For they were loathe to return to the Galilean fishing business, and the Christian lifestyle worked out well for the them and enhanced their social standing and quest for power.
viii. The hope for the Parousia, which had birthed Christianity, foundered on the persistence of the world, and gave way to the revised forecast of 2 Thessalonians and the sophistry of 2 Peter. The non-fulfillment of the eschatology of Christianity is proof of its fraud.
5. Reimarus’ treatise has historical merit despite its polemical nature—which is understandable because of the way Christianity was justified in Reimarus’ own time. He was the first to grasp that the world of thought in which Jesus moved was essentially eschatological.
6. Reimarus was wrong to suppose that Jesus’ messianic self-conception was earthly, political, Davidic; all his mistakes follow from this one error. He supposed that Christianity was an imposture because historical research was primitive in his time.
7. Until the work of Johannes Weiss appeared in 1892, Jesus scholars wrongly ignored Reimarus’ insight that the historical Jesus must be regarded as the final product of the eschatological and apocalyptic thought of Late Judaism [Schweitzer's own position].
8. Rather than ascribe separately to Jesus the political conception and to the disciples the apocalyptic conception of the messiah and his kingdom, Reimarus ought to have superimposed the one upon the other, in such a way that Messianic King = Son of Man, and in such a way that the ancient prophetic conception might be inscribed within the circumference of the apocalyptic and raised along with it to the super-sensuous plane.
9. Reimarus emphasized the Synoptics by ignoring the peculiarities of the 4th Gospel [in fact he does not distinguish the four Gospel accounts from one another].
10. He is especially skillful at grasping and explaining the difference between Jesus’ attitude to the Law and that of the disciples, and how the one emerged from the other.
11. He recognized that early Christianity was not something that grew out of the teaching of Jesus.
12. For Reimarus there is a creative element in the tradition [i.e. the post-Golgotha imposture of the disciples] from which arose the miracles, the prophecy fulfillments, the universalist themes, and the predictions of the passion and resurrection.
13. For Schweitzer, Reimarus is one of those historians destined from the womb to have that special instinctive feeling for reality, for which erudition is no substitute and in fact an obstruction. It is primarily theologians whose erudition serves to obstruct insight, to blind the eyes to elementary truths.
14. The generation of Bible scholars that witnessed Lessing's 1778 publication of Reimarus's Fragments failed to comprehend their significance, and this seminal figure was neglected until a later time.
An 1879 edition of Reimarus is online here.